Hungary’s descent into the Partly Free category in Freedom House’s just-released annual assessment of global media independence should set off alarms for those who believed the country’s press freedom was firmly established.
In a stunningly short period of time, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has used his Fidesz party’s supermajority in the parliament to push through a raft of measures that are patently hostile to media independence. A controversial media law that came into force on January 1, 2011, drew sharp criticism from a range of international observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s special representative on the media, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Commission.
About a year ago I attended a meeting whose purpose was to showcase newly elected Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych before an audience consisting mostly of representatives of the world’s largest multinational corporations. Yanukovych’s remarks were carefully crafted to appeal to these guests. But he devoted the bulk of his presentation to an explanation of his commitment to the strengthening of Ukrainian democracy. Ukraine, he declared, would be Western-oriented under his watch. He promised to protect freedom of the press, minority rights, and—here he was especially emphatic—the rule of law.